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Looking back at 5 old amok cases in Sarawak

Sir Frank Swettenham (1850-1946), who was responsible for bringing Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang together under the Federated Malay states, once called Malaya the ‘land of pirates and the amok’.

This is because the amok syndrome is believed to have derived from Malaya, eventually leading to the English phrase of ‘running amok’.

Even the word ‘amok’ came from the Malay word ‘mengamuk’, meaning ‘to make a furious charge’.

It is basically an aggressive dissociative behavioral pattern which was once considered as a culture-bound syndrome.

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Here at KajoMag, we take a look on some of the amok cases that happened in the olden days of Sarawak:

1.When a policeman went amok in Sibu

Here is an undated case recorded by John Beville Archer in his memoir Glimpses of Sarawak between 1912 and 1946:

“The amok was unpleasant. A policeman suddenly went wild in Sibu bazaar and before we could stop him he killed five persons and wounded twenty-five. As it all took place in semi-darkness there was a certain amount of panic among the inhabitants of the packed bazaar. All I know is that I tumbled over a corpse in the dark and found myself entangled up in yards of intestines. There is a bit of humour in everything; hearing someone running towards me through the darkness I had to think quickly. I did so and brought crashing down one of my own policemen. However, we got our man at last and spent all night helping the doctor to patch up the wounded. It was here I saw a miracle – or thought I did – a severed ear just clapped on again and it stuck.”

2.Kuching Police in 1889: No ammunition to stop an amok? It is okay, use some spears instead.

On Aug 30, 1889, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser reported a terrible amok that took place in Sarawak.

What intrigued us is how the police handled it.

“The S.S Normanby arrived from Sarawak yesterday and we have been enabled to obtain particulars of a very tragic occurrence which took place there on Sunday last 25th, at about half-past six. When the Normanby left here about a week ago for Sarawak she took over four Dyaks who were returning to their country. One of these men on Sunday morning ran amok and dashed along the whole length of the bazaar cutting and slashing at each person he met with a huge parang.

“The amok went into several shops and cut at the occupiers. The Chinamen seemed perfectly paralyzed and did not try to arrest the murderer. At the corner of Rock Road the Dyak met an old Chinaman; he made a cut at him and inflicted a terrible wound, drawing his knife across the man’s stomach disemboweling and killing him instantly. He went along in his mad career and passed the Police Station where although the constables had rifles they had no ammunition.

“They however took up spears and after a hot chase of about one mile captured the amok who was nearly exhausted and had been wounded by a brick flung at him by some one trying to arrest him. When quiet was restored and the Dyak was safely lodged in jail enquiry was made and it was found that fifteen men had been wounded, four of them so dangerously that their life is despaired of and that one man had been killed outright. Through the courtesy of Mr Daubeny, Inspector of Prisons, our informant was enabled, with several other gentlemen, to see the amok in jail. He seemed quite sensible and only complained of pain from a cut over his eye caused by the brick thrown at him.”

3.When a policeman went amok in Kuching bazaar in 1925

According to this news report by The Singapore Free Press on Oct 14, 1925, an amok was a rare case and even considered ‘almost unprecedented’ if it was committed by a Dayak back then.

“An unusually tragic and disturbing incident occurred in Kuching on Sept 17, about 1.45pm, when Panggi, a Dyak policeman, who had been queer in his behaviour for some days, suddenly seized his parang, in the bachelors’ barracks, slashed at two fellow constables and then ran amok into the most densely crowded thoroughfare of the bazaar, Carpenter street. An immediate pandemonium ensued while Panggi rushed hither and thither, in and out of shops, hacking at anyone within reach, killing outright one man and two children, and seriously wounding twenty-eight others including three women, mostly Chinese. Another victim succumbed in hospital.

“An amok is not common even amongst Malays in Sarawak, and almost unprecedented for a Dyak, and we tender our deep sympathy to the relatives of the unfortunate victims, and to those now in hospital.”

4.A cured leper went amok in Simanggang in 1935.

On Oct 1, 1935, the Sarawak Gazette reported an amok case which took place in Simanggang bazaar.

A man confronted the perpetrator in order to stop him attacking more people. The courageous man was later deservedly rewarded by the government with a medal and a monetary reward for his bravery.

Here is how the report goes,

“On August 20th an amok occurred in Simangang Bazaar. The man responsible was a Dayak named Tingkay, a discharged leper who had apparently been brooding over the fact that his relatives refused to consider him cured of his disease in spite of ample proof too the contrary. He attacked and severely wounded a Dayak and a Chinese, and then chased a Malay woman, who took refuge in a shop. The owner of the shop, a Chinese Named Ong Kee Poh, was having his midday meal with his family when he heard someone shouting – ‘Dayak bunoh China!’ He immediately sent his family into the back premises and arming himself with a carrying pole, waited behind the door. The Malay woman rushed in screaming, closely followed by a Tingkau, who had parang in his head. The woman fell down, and Ong Kee Poh hit the Dayak on the head with the pole. The Dayak then turned on him but Ong Kee Poh hit him on the hand and disarmed him, after which he struck the man until he collapsed. He then called the police, who took him into custody.”

5.A prisoner went amok in a gaol and attacked fellow inmates in Saratok.

The then Acting District Officer of Kalaka, H. E. Cutfield reported on the Sarawak Gazette about an amok that happened on May 3, 1927.

The man responsible for the case was an Iban named Ubam who was sentenced to a term of three years in prison for stealing $553.

On his first night in the prison, Ubam went amok.

“The gaol was only inhabited by two female prisoners and one other man who was lame. Ubam had evidently thought out his actions and after braking his way on his own cell, bolted the main doors from the inside, to prevent interruption, and first wounded the other male prisoner very seriously with a 6-inch wound in the stomach and then broke into the female cell and attacked the women. One was seriously wounded with eight stabs with a knife and the other woman I regret to say died soon after my arrival.”

Sarawak courtroom stories from the olden days

If courtroom battles were all boring, there would be no legal dramas like Suits or The Practice.

The truth is, anything can happen during a legal proceeding or else no one will make movies or television series out of it.

In Sarawak, our courtroom dramas are even more colourful due to our multi-ethnic communities and various cultural practices.

Here are some Sarawak courtroom stories from the past which you might find intriguing today:

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Image by Carrie Z from Pixabay

1.A court interpreter delivered the most straightforward translation ever.

“There is the story of the Justice in Kuching who delivered a death sentence of unusual length upon a Chinese. He had no knowledge of anything but English and at the end said to the interpreter, ‘Tell the prisoner what the learned judge has said’. The interpreter turned to the unfortunate man and said in a loud voice, “Lu mati!” (which translates to ‘You gonna die!’)

This story was shared John Beville Archer in his book, Glimpses of Sarawak between 1912 and 1946.

Kuching Old Courthouse
Kuching Old Courthouse

2.A magistrate who ran around the court fleeing an attacker

In the same book, Archer talked about a norm no longer practiced in the Sarawak courtroom and how the practice came about.

“The people rather liked coming to Court. It was held with very little pomp and much friendliness. One thing which is missing nowadays are the Policemen sitting in a row behind the principals – these were always armed with native swords, with colourful corded belts and the senior N.C.O, similarly armed sat behind the magistrate. This, they say, became the practice after an attempt many years before to attack the magistrate who was run around the Bench by an aggrieved suitor.”

3. The difference between ‘Butang’ versus ‘Butang Rangkai’

Kenelm Hubert Digby was a district officer, judge and eventually the Attorney General in Sarawak.

Around 1934 in Limbang, he tried his first case under the native customary law.

“Clad in sarong I sat on a mat on the ruai, the long communal verandah, with the Native Officer and the penghulu on either side of me, and the hundred or so inhabitants of the longhouse gathered around us. The case was concerned with a complaint of a married woman that a man had committed butang rangkai (literally ‘dry adultery’) with her. Her story was that, during the absence of her husband, the accused had entered her mosquito net, but had been virtuously and successfully repulsed by her before any damage had been done.

“The accused hotly denied this allegation. He admitted that he had formed the intention of having intercourse with the complainant and that he had entered her mosquito net in pursuance of his enterprise. On the contrary he said, the woman had welcomed him and he had entirely achieved his purpose. This case had been brought only because the woman’s husband had come to hear the incident.

“The Sea Dayak fine for butang (adultery) was fifteen dollars, while butang rangkai the fine was only twelve dollars. Gathering together all the shreds of my English legal training I informed the accused that since his defence amounted to a confession of the completed offence and since every willful act must include an attempt to commit the act, he could have no reasonable objection to being convicted in accordance with the complainant’s allegations, and required to pay twelve dollars instead of the fifteen for which according to his own story, he was really liable. I was surprised at the fuss which he made.

“I turned for enlightenment to the Native Officer, who explained to me that the accused did not mind paying the extra three dollars but he did object very strongly to the suggestion that, having made advances to the woman, he had been rejected by her. If this allegation received the stamp of truth from the court it might be a considerable time before the accused managed to live it down.”

4.Using a cane to summon a Dayak to court

Have you ever wondered how court summons were delivered?

Arthur Bartlett Ward who once a Sarawak Resident and member of Council Negri in his memoir, Rajah’s Servant (1966) explained,

“The method of summoning Dyaks to Court was peculiar. Paper documents would have been useless, so a ‘tongkat’ or a Malacca cane walking stick with a brass head and a government mark, was sent abroad from village to village with a verbal message, until it reached the person named who forthwith hurried to Simanggang. The system was effective and I never heard of a ‘tongkat’ going astray or being abused.”

5.The two historical Singaporean politicians who had appeared as lawyers in Sarawak courtroom.

Peter Mooney was Sarawak Crown Counsel in Sarawak in the 1950s. In his memoir A Servant of Sarawak (2011), Mooney named two formidable opponents he had encountered in Sarawak courtroom.

The first one was the former Chief Minister of Singapore, David Marshall.

About Marshall, Mooney narrated, “I encountered him in many criminal trials and appeals in Sarawak. He fully deserved his reputation. He prepared his cases meticulously. Every fact was at his fingertips and he had thoroughly mastered the relevant law. He was flamboyant in nature and given to rhetoric. I remember him saying in an appear, ‘…and suspicion settles, like a cloud of atomic dust, over the prosecution witness!’ He could have made a name as an actor.”

Beside Marshall, Mooney also had faced Lee Kuan Yew in Sarawak courtroom battles.

“Like David Marshall, as counsel he was always thoroughly prepared. Unlike David he was never histrionic but presented his client’s case most persuasively with cool and inexorable logic. Had he not abandoned the Bar for politics he would undoubtedly have made a great name for himself as an advocate. He had brilliant intellect and his presentation was quite flawless.”

CARSOME expands operations in Sarawak

KUCHING, Sarawak, 22 October 2022 – Southeast Asia’s largest integrated car e-commerce platform, CARSOME, has officially expanded its operations to East Malaysia with the launch of four new inspection centers in Sarawak. This expansion sees CARSOME introducing a new standard of selling cars to East Malaysians and providing them with a trusted and transparent option.

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The inspection centers aim to offer customers a differentiated and hassle-free car-selling experience, through fast payment and worry-free transaction process. Guided by a stringent inspection procedure, every CARSOME Inspection Center will have a skilled professional inspector to conduct comprehensive inspection on the car, to ensure its quality is accounted for to offer the best price in the market.

CARSOME Co-Founder & CARSOME Academy CEO, Teoh Jiun Ee said the expansion to East Malaysia is part of CARSOME’s ongoing mission to solve customers’ pain points, thereby providing Malaysians peace of mind throughout their car selling journey. “The presence of CARSOME in East Malaysia marks a significant and positive milestone for us. Our motivation is to make CARSOME services accessible to all Malaysians as we continue to innovate the used car ecosystem, driven by data and technology.”

With the launch of four new inspection centers in Sarawak – Kuching, Sibu, Miri and Bintulu CARSOME now has 49 inspection centers across Malaysia. Leveraging proprietary data and pricing algorithms, CARSOME ensures fair pricing can be determined for every car, underlining its goal to create a trusted and transparent used car ecosystem. Aside from pricing offered by CARSOME, customers can also opt for its e-bidding platform, to get different price offers from its nationwide network of used car dealers.

The launch of the new CARSOME Inspection Center at Kuching was officiated by Sarawak Deputy Premier, Second Minister for Finance and New Economy and Minister for Infrastructure and Port Development Sarawak, Yang Berhormat Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.

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Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said CARSOME’s expansion to Sarawak comes at a critical time given that the country is in a recovery phase from the pandemic.

“I believe that CARSOME’s technology driven business model will complement our goal which is to improve the standard of living, grow our economy to provide business and job opportunities and train our people to be resourceful and increase their income level. This is in tandem with the Sarawak government’s plan in implementing its Post-COVID-19 Development Strategy 2030 (PCDS 2030) where its people will enjoy economic prosperity driven by data and innovation.”

CARSOME will be supporting used car dealers in digitalizing their operations and ecosystem by introducing its E-bidding Platform and Dealer Financing Program and providing end-to-end support for dealers. By bringing its proprietary technology and software innovation, CARSOME aims to empower used car dealers to seamlessly tap into new trends through digitalization.

In addition, CARSOME hopes through its expansion that it will help stimulate the economy and drive greater growth for the used car market. To do this, CARSOME will create new sales and growth opportunities for used car dealers by establishing partnership deals, while offering bonus rewards and credit lines for long-term business sustainability.  

The inspection centers in Sarawak will serve as among the next steps forward in CARSOME’s growth plans, strengthening its already established footprint in Malaysia. A series of marketing initiatives will also take place in Sarawak offering various promotions for consumers to experience the new standard of selling their cars through CARSOME.  

For more information on CARSOME upcoming promotions in Sarawak, please visit CARSOME website.


CARSOME is Southeast Asia’s largest integrated car e-commerce platform. With operations across Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, CARSOME aims to digitize the region’s used car industry by reshaping and elevating the car transaction and ownership experience.

Together with subsidiary brands iCar Asia, WapCar and CarTimes, CARSOME provides end-to-end solutions to consumers and used car dealers across the decision funnel, from car content consumption, car inspection, ownership transfer to financing and other ancillary services, promising to bring trust, transparency and choice  to our customers. CARSOME currently has more than 4,000 employees across all its offices in Asia.

Ludvig Verner Helms, the unwilling candidate for Rajah of Sarawak

During the Chinese Insurrection against James Brooke in 1857, the insurgents proposed making Ludvig Verner Helms the next Rajah.

In the end, however, Helms played a huge role in helping Brooke to fight the insurgents.

So how important was Helms that the Chinese insurgents wanted him to replace Brooke as Rajah?

Ludvig Verner Helms and his life before Sarawak

1846 Ludvig Verner Helms Daguerreotype
Ludvig Verner Helms Daguerrotype taken in 1846.

Born in Varde, Denmark in 1825, Helms was a son of a pharmacist and the 13th of 16 children.

He was basically a merchant and a trader. Helms was influenced by his fellow countryman, Mads Lange who made his fortune in Bali, Indonesia.

Although he had never met or corresponded with Lange, he had letters of introduction from others.

Armed with those letters, Helms arrived in Bali sometimes in 1847.

With no knowledge of the local language, Helms continuously repeated Lange’s name to the locals until one of them showed him where Lange lived.

Lange welcomed him and Helms worked in Bali for the next two years.

In 1849, Helms left Bali to find work in Singapore and eventually arrived in Sarawak in 1852.

Ludvig Verner Helms and the Borneo Company

Kuching Sarawak the Borneo Companys building. Photograph. Wellcome V0037398
Kuching, Sarawak: the Borneo Company’s building. Photograph. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Photograph c. 1896 By: Charles Hose Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution

When Helms first lived in Sarawak, he worked mainly in trading antimony. Then when the Borneo Company was formed in 1856, Helms became its local manager.

The company was given the mandate to ‘take over and work Mines, Ores, Veins or Seams of all descriptions of Minerals in the island of Borneo, and to barter or sell the produce of such workings; at the cost of royalty payments to the Sarawak government treasury in a 1857 agreement’.

According to Steven Runciman in his book The White Rajah: A History of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946, the Board of Company wanted a trained businessman as its local director and Helms fitted the role perfectly.

The first White Rajah of Sarawak, James Brooke however had his own thought.

“Helms was a capable if somewhat complacent man; the Rajah could never bring himself to like him, largely because he had had no say in the appointment. But any annoyance that he felt began to be dissipated when the Company bought a steamer to ply regularly between Kuching and Singapore and named her Sir James Brooke,” Runciman wrote.

Ludvig Verner Helms during the Chinese Insurrection

On Feb 18, 1857, a group of 600 Chinese made their way to the Sarawak River to attack Brooke.

At that time, Brooke managed to flee from his home and look for safety.

That did not stop the rebels from attacking Kuching causing the deaths of five Europeans and the fire that consumed several buildings, including Brooke’s house.

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The Chinese Rebellion Illustration from Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak by Harriette McDougall

After the attack, the Chinese insurgents however did not want to take over the Sarawak government, offering the seat to Helms instead.

Even though Helms found himself unwillingly caught in the middle of the chaos, he refused to tell his side of the story in his book Pioneering in the Far East and Journeys to California in 1849 and the White Sea in 1878 (1882).

He wrote, “I gave thought it better, instead of giving my own account of the Chinese Insurrection, to insert the diary my friend, who was in its midst, and who made notes of the incidents as they occurred. His account is so vivid, and as I can attest, so truthful, that I feel no apology is need for presenting it to the reader.”

From the diary, we know that Helms was missing for awhile during the insurrection with many assuming that he had died, only to reappear two days later at a meeting held at the Old Courthouse.

The diary narrated, “The whole of the Court was filled with scowling Chinese faces, who thoroughly enjoyed their short triumph. The Kungsi then stated their grievances, said that they did not wish to interfere with the Europeans in Sarawak, claimed immunity from taxes and concluded by electing Helms Rajah. He was the popular man, and stood a fair chance of being made a monarch; but he continued respectfully to decline the honour.”

The Borneo Company helps in retaking Kuching town

After the meeting, Helms returned to Brooke’s side. In retaliation, the Rajah enlisted the help of the Malays and the Ibans from Lingga to take over Kuching from the rebels.

The Borneo Company also provided a steamer to help in the attack.

On Feb 23, the diary owner gave a glimpse on what went down on that day.

“Once on board, we started all with our intelligence. Helms who was now Rajah nolens volens decided on going up to the town at once, and the ladies were brought on board. Now came an exciting scene-the guns were got out, the rifles, cutlasses, all piled, and the decks cleared, but while this was being done we saw a large boat making for the river, which turned out to carry the Rajah, who had seen the smoke of the steamer far out at sea. The gloom and depression had passed away from the Rajah now, and everyone was in tearing spirits.

“The moment we opened the town, we were exposed to the fort, and the guns from the old fort opened on us with grape of original composition – balls, nails, scraps of rusty iron, came whizzing round, many of which were picked up afterwards as souvenirs; two of the boats were struck, and the keel of the one above me was splintered in all directions.

“The next instant our long eighteen-pounder forward spoke his mind. Firing almost simultaneously with another gun of same caliber the roar was a good one, and then came the sharper notes of the swivels and rifles. The shot from the gun forward, which was manned by the mate, went slap into the fort and create a scare. Out scoured the Chinese like wild hares in March, some dashing up the road leading to the Channons, while many ran through the bazaar, affording practice for the riflemen on board. The new fort was quickly cleared, and two or three more rounds completed the action. We steamed slowly up the river, on the sides of which the Malay kampong was still burning and then coming back again anchored off the bazaar. And thus the Company’s steamer retook the town of Sarawak.”

Ludvig Verner Helms on the dispute between James Brooke and Captain Brooke

As we dig deeper into Sarawak history under the White Rajahs, we know that Captain John Brooke Johnson Brooke was James Brooke’s first choice to inherit his position in Sarawak. He was Charles Brooke, the second Rajah’s older brother.

He preferred to be known as Brooke and after he left the British Army as a Captain in 1848, he adopted the surname of Brooke.

539px John Brooke Rajah Mudah of Sarawak
Captain Brooke

Captain Brooke first joined his uncle in Labuan when James was the first governor there then later to Sarawak.

A fallout with his uncle James Brooke caused Captain Brooke to lose his title as the Rajah Muda.

Since then, he was practically wiped out from Sarawak history despite his contribution to the country including during the Battle off Mukah in 1862.

Touching on the family conflict which later influenced Sarawak history, Helms explained on the preface his book, “The references to the dispute between two men, both of whom I knew and admired – Rajah Brooke and his nephew, Captain Brooke – will be uninteresting to many and displeasing to some, but there are also those who will remember and who were interested in their careers and who will see that I have attempted, though somewhat late, to do an act of justice.”

True to his words, Helms’ book Pioneering in the Far East and Journeys to California in 1849 and the White Sea in 1878 (1882) is highly recommendable for those who are looking for an unbiased account of what happened between the uncle and the nephew.

Ludvig Verner Helms, the Rajah nolens volens of Sarawak

Going back to the diary, Helms was referred to as the Rajah nolens volens. It is a Latin phrase for ‘like it or not’.

As to why the Chinese chose Helms to be the next Rajah, we are not entirely sure, perhaps due to the trust he built as the manager of The Borneo Company with the Chinese who were mainly miners from Bau.

Regardless, Helms in the end picked a side and went against those who chose him to be a monarch.

Helms lived and started his family here with his wife Anne Amelia Bruce whom he married in London in 1859.

They stayed in Sarawak until 1872 when a lawsuit terminated employment with the Borneo Company.

He reportedly returned to Sarawak around 1890 to prospect various ores but did not stay long. Helms spent the rest of his life in London and passed away on July 26, 1918.

Helms’ book is available for online reading here.

‘Scraps and Scrawls from Sarawak’, the first book ever printed in Sarawak

Imagine being sent to a company function with your fellow colleagues and ended up stuck at the airport due to a flight delay, what would you do?

While you may strike a conversation or two with your colleagues, most of us would definitely find some solace through our phones.

Now, imagine it is the year 1874 having stuck with your colleagues on a river, unable to reach your destination because of the low tide, what would you do?

For a group of outstation Brooke officers who were supposed to be in Kuching but stuck somewhere along the Sarawak River, they came up with a book.

To kill time, these men shared and made up stories among themselves so enthusiastically until one of them raised an idea to publish a book together.

Waiting for the Tide or Scraps and Scrawls from Sarawak

‘Scraps and Scrawls from Sarawak’

The book is befittingly entitled ‘Waiting for the Tide, or Scraps and Scrawls from Sarawak’.

On the preface, they go,

“We start this annual with fear and trembling, as we are aware it has no pretensions to be skilled literary production, but simply what it is entitled – Scraps and Scrawls from Sarawak life, which is in itself strange, wild and romantic. Written by men whose jungle life more or less unfits them for literary pursuits, the pictures being lithographed in Singapore, and the work printed by a Chinese boy educated in the Mission School here, we trust these facts may be taken into consideration, and that the sharp blasts of criticism may be tempered to this our first-born.

There was an established rule which originated in the time of Sir James Brooke, that all officers who could leave their stations should keep up the old English custom of meeting to celebrate Christmas and the New Year in Kuching.

A party of outstation officers happened to meet on a Christmas eve in one of the small streams which intersect the two branches of the Sarawak river, which is generally used as a short cut; being detained by the failing tide, they were unable to reach the capital that night, and to beguile the time these stories were sketched out whilst ‘Waiting for the tide’.”

Fraser’s story is about his encounter with pirate while A. Perry tells the story of a jungle heroine named Pya.

Meanwhile, T. Skipwith shares the story of men with tells and O.C. Vane narrates a story of rescuing a Dayak from a Monster. H. Roscoe and W.H. Don tells stories of their encounters with an alligator and wolves respectively.

But here is the thing; all of the six stories in the book were contributed under assumed names.

Optimistic Fiddler and ‘Scraps and Scrawls from Sarawak’

Fortunately about 75 years later, a Sarawak Gazette writer under the pen name ‘Optimistic Fiddler’ figured out all the identities of these authors…or did he?

Optimistic Fiddler, was actually John Beville Archer. He held several posts in Sarawak service including as the Chief Secretary in 1939.

In an article which was published on the Sarawak Gazette on March 1, 1948, Archer shared that he came across the book more than 25 years earlier in the Officers’ Mess at Fort Alice, Simanggang.

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Fort Alice

According to Archer, as far as he knew, it was the only copy in existence.

When Archer returned to Simanggang a decade later, however, the rare book had disappeared.

After World War II, he found the book in a cupboard in the Sarawak Museum Offices.

“From the gist of the first story it seems that the two boats, one containing three, and the other two, officer meet in the mosquito ridden ‘trusan’ near Kuching just as the tide turned against them and night fell. This would be probably be up the Santubong entrance. The party, who came from outstations decided to go back to the fire and spend the night there, and from the descriptions in the tales I think we may take it that Santubong was the camp of the story-teller; the picture on the outside cover supports this.”

There is no spoiler here on what these short stories about but our curiosity as well as Archer’s remain on who were the authors behind ‘Scraps and Scrawls from Sarawak’.

A Pirate Story by W. Fraser

Archer believed that W. Fraser was William Maunder Crocker. He was the father of Harold Brooke Crocker.

Harold worked in Sarawak for almost 40 years since he joined the service in 1900, holding various positions including, Superintendent of Lands and Surveys, Director of Agriculture, Food Control Officer, residents, judge and Chief Secretary.

Meanwhile, Crocker worked in the Sarawak service from 1864 to 1880 except for a period of four years when he according to Archer, ‘engaged in mercantile pursuits’.

Crocker brought Chinese pepper and gambier planters into Sarawak and made one of the first few reliable maps of the state.

In 1887, he became the Acting Governor of British North Borneo but only for a year. Crocker Range in Sabah that separates west and east coast of Sabah was named after him.

Here in Sarawak, the remnant of Crocker’s work can be found in Mukah.

The old brick chimney in Mukah town is all that remains of a sago factory Crocker started there (when he was trying to be a merchant in that four years).

A Jungle Heroine by A. Perry

As for the writer of the second story ‘A Jungle Heroine’, Archer guessed it is written by Alfred Robert Houghton.

When Houghton first came to Sarawak in 1862 as Treasurer, he was paid $70 per month.

He held that appointment until August 1866 when he became the Magistrate of Upper Sarawak.

Houghton then subsequently became the Resident of Bintulu. When the first Council Negri was held at Bintulu on Sept 8, 1867, he was there as an appointed member of the council.

After that, he was promoted to Resident Second Class in charge of Sadong and transferred there on June 1, 1873. Then in July 1875, Houghton was appointed Resident Rejang District.

Archer was correct with the timeline of Houghton’s career as he stated, “At the time he appears to have been in charge of Sadong district.”

The youngest son of a physician in London Dr James R. Houghton, he studied for the Bar and also the medical profession before coming to Sarawak.

At some point of his career before Sarawak, Houghton was also a newspaper correspondent.

One of the highlights of his service in the state was when he accompanied Rajah Charles Brooke on the first Mujong Expedition of 1880.

After the expedition, Houghton fell sick and had to return to Kuching. He died somewhere in the Red Sea on the way home on Mar 20, 1881 at the age of 43.

Men with tails by T. Skipwith

Archer wrote, “’Men with Tails’ is no doubt Thomas Skipwith Chapman, 1864-96 who did all his service in the Kalaka district. He was a spirited artist and most of the illustrations are his.”

Chapman took part in a punitive expedition at upper Batang Lupar in 1875 under the command of Rajah Charles alongside 300 Malays and 6000 Dayaks.

Beside ‘Waiting for the Tide, or Scraps and Scrawls from Sarawak’, Chaoman also published another book of his illustrations “A Short Trip to Sarawak and The Dayaks”

On top of that, he was one of Brooke officers along with Houghton who attended the first Council Negri meeting in Bintulu.

To the Rescue by O.C. Vane

“O.C. Vane who writes ‘To the Rescue’ is Oliver St. John 1860-84. He has the distinction of being the first Postmaster in Sarawak,” Archer stated.

However, that was not his first job in Sarawak.

According to Sarawak Gazette archivist Loh Chee Yin, Oliver Cromwell Vane St. John first joined the Sarawak Service on Aug 17, 1860 as Midshipman.

He was then appointed first clerk in the Treasury on May 1, 1861.

St. John became the first postmaster on New Year’s day 1864.

In fact, his post as the postmaster was in addition of his Treasury duties.

He was the Resident of Upper Sarawak from 1872 until his retirement in 1884. The former postmaster died in Mexico in 1898.

Adventure with an Alligator by H. Roscoe

The ‘Adventure with an Alligator is the fifth story in the book and whose author Archer did not confirm.

In the Sarawak Gazette, Archer wrote, “This may be Oliver St. John too, but that is merely a guess and I do not know enough yet to say who it is.”

It is understandable why Archer guessed so, H. Roscoe might be a pseudonym in reference to Oliver’s  uncle.

That particular uncle was Horace Stebbing Roscoe St John but Oliver had another more famous paternal uncle.

Oliver’s father, Percy St. John was the son of English journalist James Augustus St. John.

Three of James’s sons; Percy, Bayle and Horace all became journalists and authors.

James also introduced one of his sons, Spenser St. John to James Brooke.

Spenser came to Sarawak in 1848 as the first Rajah’s private secretary. He then became the British Consul General in Brunei. During his tenure in Brunei, he made two ascents of Mount Kinabalu with Hugh Low.

One of the peaks of Mount Kinabalu, ‘St. John’s Peak’ is named after him.

However, there is one problem with Archer’s assumption that H. Roscoe is Oliver St. John.

In the introduction of the book as the authors narrating how the book came about, it is stated Vane and Roscoe are two people.

After arriving at the stream where they were unable to move on, ‘Perry’ heard another boat was coming and he said he even heard ‘Skipwith’ singing ‘The Hardy Norsman’.

To that ‘Don’ replied, “I wonder if they have dined? If not, we had better join mess, there must be ‘Vane’ and ‘Roscoe’ with him, as I know they intended coming round together. Here they come.”

Another theory is H. Roscoe was Horace’s son and Oliver’s cousin but there is no record found that Horace had a son who worked in Sarawak.

Nonetheless, the mystery remains who is H. Roscoe?

Don’s Story by W.H. Don

Finally, the last story is believed to be written by William Henry Rodway. Yes, Jalan Rodway in Kuching was named after him.

We understand from the book that it was Don who suggested the idea to have each of them to tell a story that would keep them awake.

He was the first Commandant of the Sarawak Rangers, a para-military force founded in 1862.

Rodway died on Jan 11, 1924 in Torquay, England and according to his obituary, he joined the Sarawak Civil Service in 1862 and retired on pension in 1883.

Apart from the role of the commandant, he had also worked as the Resident of the First Division as well as the President of the Committee of Administration.

Is ‘Waiting for the Tide or Scraps and Scrawls from Sarawak’ the first book published in Sarawak?

The book clearly stated it was edited, printed and published in Kuching and the year of publication on the book is 1875.

Unless there is any other book that was published here earlier than this, it is safe to say that ‘Waiting for the Tide or Scraps and Scrawls from Sarawak’ is the first illustrated book printed in Sarawak.

Since it is a fictional book, perhaps it is also one of the firsts if not the first fiction that came out from the state.

Nearly 150 years have passed since the book was published, is the book worth your read?

Well, we leave you with the words of one of its readers who perhaps read it at least dozen times when entertainment was scarce in Simanggang.

“I recommend this book to readers, especially to newcomers to Sarawak. It has no great literary merit but it has considerable charm. As an insight into old Sarawak it is well worth reading and digesting with care.”

The book is available through Pustaka Sarawak and Singapore National Library Board.

KajoReaders, do you agree on the real identities of the authors or do you have any thoughts especially who is H. Roscoe? Let us know in the comment section.  

What you need to know about all the great fires of Sarawak

Sarawak has been through quite a number of great fires throughout its history.

Just like the Great Fire of London which took place from Sept 2 till 6 in 1666 which gutted the medieval City of London, Sarawak has experienced fires so ‘great’ that have taken down whole bazaars or large sections of a town. Moreover, some places in Sarawak were unfortunate enough to have more than one great fire

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Illustration only. Image by Pixabay.

So here are some of the historic fires that have taken place in Sarawak:

1.The Great Fire of Kuching

Sarawakians might have heard about the Great Fire of Kuching that broke on Jan 20, 1884 at 1.05am.

What most people may not be aware of is the looting that happened during the incident.

If the same case happened in Kuching today, the looters would, without a doubt, be condemned on social media.

Here is a report from the Straits Times which was published on Feb 2, 1884:

“Private advices received from Kuching, Sarawak and from Captain Joyce of the S.S. Ranee, inform us that a great fire occurred there on the morning of Sunday, the 20th January, which nearly proved the destruction of the entire town. The fire originated in Carpenter Street, entirely consisting of wooden houses, which were quickly consumed, and the fire soon spread into China Street and Bishopsgate Street, in which latter thoroughfare ten wooden buildings were also consumed.

The houses were old, and the fire ran from one to the other so rapidly that in a very short time from the first alarm the the three streets above named were one mass of flame, and it was thought the entire town of Kuching be destroyed.

Some of the principal merchants’ houses in the main Bazaar were connected through their back premises with these three streets, and at one time great apprehensions were entertained that the entire Bazaar and the merchants’ premises would be absorbed in the conflagration. The brick houses of Messrs. Seng Keng and Kong Wan were entirely gutted; but further damage was stopped by an opportune downpour of rain, which fell in torrents and effectively subdued the fire.

One hundred and thirty-two houses had, in the meantime, been destroyed, including the whole Carpenter Street, China Street, and Bishopsgate Street, and some new houses built in Nochi Road by Mr Ken Wat.

The Chinese residents and coolies stood looking at the fire, and not only refused any assistance, but devoted their attention entirely to looting.”

2.The Great Fire of Lundu

The common solution for all fire incidents in the past was to rebuild the town in ironwood.

Here is a report from Straits Times on Oct 17, 1893 that showed the Brooke government had another precaution to prevent fire from spreading.

“At Lundu, a town in Sarawak, a fire which broke out in the bazaar on the 3rd September consumed fifteen shops with property valued at $40,000. The Resident paid a visit to the town a few days afterwards, and on the shopkeepers proposing to rebuild the bazaar with ironwood, he advised that it should be built for the future in blocks, with plantains or some quick growing trees planted between which would serve as a screen in case of fire in the future.”

3.The Great Fire of Bau

The fire that engulfed Bau Bazaar in 1909 was so huge that the glare was reportedly distinctly visible from Kuching.

“Shak Lung Mung Bazaar Bau, was totally destroyed by fire early on the night of the 3rd. The shops on both sides of the Bazaar road were built of most inflammable materials, wood frames, attap and kajang roofs and walls, while many of the shops contained kerosene oil in tins. In such circumstances it only remained to try and save what could be got at from the shops not burning as nothing could possibly save the Bazaar when the fire had once obtained a hold, which it did in a few minutes,” The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser reported on Dec 30, 1909.

According to the report, the loss was estimated at $50,000.”

Meanwhile, a Chinese correspondent wrote to his Singaporean friend about how Bau town was destroyed by fire, causing panic among ita inhabitants.

The content of the letter was reported on The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser on Dec 16, 1909 under the headline ‘The Gods Send Fire’.

According to the correspondent, the flames rose hundreds of feet and, together with the crackling of wood, the smoke and frantic shouting, it was likened to a day of judgement for them.

He also attributed the cause of the fire to the ‘High Gods’ to whom, the writer stated, “the people have not prayed regularly for the last ten or twelve years.”

Hence, according to writer, the only way to wreak vengeance on the ungodly was, like Sodom and Gomorrah, to devour the town with flames.

4.The Great Fire of Simanggang

“From private advices we learn that on Tuesday last, at two o’clock in the morning, fire broke out in the bazaar, at Simanggang, Sarawak.

In a short time the whole bazaar was ablaze, and seventy-five shops were demolished, in the daylight.”

This was what Malaya Tribune reported on Dec 20, 1927 about the fire.

5.The Great Fires of Matu

Matu town was first established in 1885 by a group of Chinese who came directly from China to trade with the Melanaus.

According to Chang Pat Foh in his book Legend and History of Sarawak, Matu went through two great fires in which the whole bazaar was burnt down.

The first fire took place in 1897 and the second one 30 years later in 1927.

The Straits Budgets, however, reported on Feb 18, 1909 that another fire happened a month prior.

With the headline ‘Serious Fire in Sarawak’, this is what the paper reported:

“News was received in Sarawak, on January 21, that the whole Matu Bazaar had been destroyed by fire a few days previously and the Chinese shopkeepers there were destitute of goods and provisions.
The Government dispatched the steamer Alice Lorraine direct to Matu the following morning, with stores. The Sarawak Gazette understand that the loss to the Chinese is somewhere about $99,000 at the lowest computation.”

6.The Great Fires of Sibu

Sibu was burnt to the ground twice. The first fire happened on the night of Feb 10, 1889. About 60 shophouses were razed to the ground.

At that time, the cost of the damage was estimated at $15,000.

Then another bigger fire took place on Mar 7, 1928.

According to the report on the Straits Budget which was published on Mar 22, 1928, the blaze lasted for some hours but ‘the ruins were still smouldering three days afterwards.

The report continued, stating that “The only building that escaped in the bazaar was Messr. Soon Seng and Company’s retail premises. The premises of two British firms in Sibu, the Borneo Company and the Sarawak Steamship Company were destroyed. The former company had $50,000 in notes in a Chubb safe but the money and documents were untouched, and another firm which had $100,000 in notes in a fireproof safe was equally fortunate. The total damage was estimated at about $4,000,000, several hundred houses being destroyed together with other property and merchandise.”

The Hills Kuching hosts FORAGE Food Festival from 22-24 July

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Catch the Gastro-Fun at Forage Food Festival!

Kuching, Sarawak – The Hills Kuching is set to host the FORAGE Food Festival from 22nd to 24th July 2022. This landmark gastronomic event will be held in conjunction with the closing ceremony of the Sarawak Gastronomy (SAGO) Incubator 2022.

FORAGE @ The Hills is a celebration of Kuching being recognised as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy.

“Kuching’s recognition as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy is a testament to the rich natural resources of Sarawak, our talented F&B ecosystem and the unique diversity of cultures of Sarawak,” said Minister of Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Art Dato Sri Haji Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah. “Food is not just a sustenance for us Sarawakians, but a celebration of our unity, our diversity and our sense of community. Forage @ The Hills is a platform to celebrate and showcase this.”

The three-day festival will showcase F&B selections by SAGO’s food-preneurs including new food innovations boasting a diversity of local flavours. In addition, there will be other food vendors, performances by local artists and activities such as workshops, cooking demonstrations, discussions and talks by key local F&B influencers. There will also be a competitions with up to RM5,000 worth of prizes to be won, including an Aglio-Olio Eating Contest, Teh O Peng Relay, Quiz Night and Social Media Creative Content Contest.

A gallery will also display Kuching’s application to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) and other highlights including the unique native ingredients of Sarawak, our relationship with food and nature, the evolution of our food culture, and a whole melting pot of diverse cultures and cuisines.

The SAGO Incubator is an 11-week intensive programme that equips food entrepreneurs with the skills and network to grow their food business and succeed in the digital economy. This year’s nine food entrepreneurs were carefully selected from more than 30 applications by SAGO’s selection committee comprised of experienced professionals from the industry. They are Claudia Nasha Chai (The Abraham’s Kitchen), Ezi Firhan (Emillies Diner), Kimberley Ling (Tacos by Bojio), Marthineus Langi Michael (Stardust Cafe), Mohd Rozairie Ramlie (Flip and Fold Grill), Nur Fadzila Sarkawi (Aek Kunyit Manjakani), Nur Shaqhima Hamden (Queen’s Kitchen by Sheemadean), Ooi See Bee (Cloud-99 Ice Cream) and Saw Yee Ken (Billy Goat Coffee). Besides mastering food innovation skills from resident mentor Chef Achang Libat, this year’s nine food-preneurs have also been learning business development and marketing know-how to elevate their food business.

FORAGE @ The Hills is organised by The Hills, WAT Sarawak and Retrospective Discovery in collaboration with the Culinary Heritage and Arts Society Sarawak (CHASS), and supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts, TEGAS Digital Village, Supreme Group, Pullman Kuching, Green Buddy, Kedey Kamek, SEDC, foodpanda, Suara Sarawak and New Sarawak Tribune.

For more event updates, please follow The Hills on Facebook and Instagram @thehills.kch.

50 very random historical facts about Kuching you need to know

Here are 50 very random historical facts about Kuching you need to know

1.Kuching is not the first capital of Sarawak.

The first capital of Sarawak was Santubong which was founded by Sultan Pengiran Tengah in 1599 and then Lidah Tanah founded by Datu Patinggi Ali in the early 1820s.

2.There were geographical and political reasons on why Kuching was chosen as the capital.

Kuching was founded in 1827 by the representative of the Sultan of Brunei, Pengiran Indera Mahkota.

Craig A. Lockard in his paper The Early Development of Kuching 1820-1857 explained why Mahkota chose Kuching.

“Selection of Kuching as the site for a new administrative centre allowed Mahkota to avoid the jealousy and resentment his appearance would arouse among the local elite at Lidah Tanah while at the same time insuring him settlement in which he would have full control. The decision also made geographical sense, as few good existed between Lidah Tanah and the sea, most of them either too exposed to the sea-going raiders then infesting the coast, or suffering from poor soils and lack of fresh water. Located just south of the coastal swamp, Kuching was convenient to both the river mouth 21 miles away, and the antimony mines 25 miles upriver. Finally, distance from the sea, availability of hills on which to build forts, and narrowness of the river all made Kuching easily defensible.”

3.The largest archaeological site in Malaysia is in Santubong

According to the Sarawak Museum website, Santubong is in fact the largest archaeological site in Malaysia, compared to Lembah Bujang in the Peninsular Malaysia.

“ Thousands of ceramic shards were excavated in 1949 under the curatorship Tom Harrison. Other than Chinese ceramics, about 40,000 tons of iron slag formed another salient discovery. It is believed that this area was once an important centre of traders and iron mining in the region between 11th century A.D. to 13th century A.D.”

4.One of the earliest censuses recorded there logged 8000 people living in the entire Sarawak river basin in 1839.

They were mostly Dayaks with perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 Malays and a few Chinese.

5.There were Dayak who settled in Padungan

Speaking of the Dayaks, columnist Sidi Munan once highlighted the existence of Iban settlers in Padungan before the arrival of James Brooke in his 2019 column in The Borneo Post:

“I didn’t know about all this until I read an account of the early missionaries. The Rev William Henry Gomes had been working in the Mission station in Lundu. On Dec 24, 1859, while resting in Kuching, he wrote to his boss in London talking about the Dayaks of Padungan. Beautiful handwriting the Rev had, I’ve seen copies of some of his correspondence. He was familiar with the longhouse at Padungan, and must have visited it at least a few times.”

The ‘firsts’ in the History of Kuching

6.The ‘first’ library of Sarawak was burnt down during the Bau Rebellion.

It was perhaps Sarawak’s first library, although it was never officially announced as one. James Brooke had a library in his house in which he allowed his fellow European residents to use. Unfortunately, everything was burnt down during the Bau Rebellion.

Harriette McDougall in her book Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak described the incident.

“And then the library! a treasure indeed in the jungle; books on all sorts of subjects, bound in enticing covers, always inviting you to bodily repose and mental activity or amusement, as you might prefer. This library, so dear to us all because we were all allowed to share it, was burnt in 1857 by the Chinese rebels. It took two days to burn. I watched it from our library over the water, and saw the mass of books glowing dull red like a furnace, long after the flames had consumed the wooden house. It made one’s heart ache to see it.”

7.The first Chinese settlers called Main Bazaar road as Hai Chun Street (meaning lips of the sea).

According to International Times, Chinese settlers usually named the first street near river as Hai Gan Street which means ‘at the edge of river or sea’.

This is because the early transportation in Southeast Asia were heavily dependent on rivers.

When the Chinese first came to Kuching, they named the first street in Kuching as Hai Chun Street instead. The name can be translated as lip of the sea.

Today, it is more popular known as Main Bazaar Road and it is known to be the oldest street in Kuching.

8.The oldest temple in Kuching city is the Tua Pek Kong Temple, Kuching

Also known as Siew San Teng Temple, Tua Pek Kong Temple is a Chinese Temple situated near Kuching Waterfront.

Although its history can be traced back to 1843, it is believed to had been in existence before 1839.

9.The oldest mosque in Kuching is also the oldest mosque in Sarawak.

The mosque was built in 1847 by Datu Patinggi Ali and his family. In the beginning, the structure was simple and made from wood. When cement was imported in Sarawak in 1880, the mosque was reinforced using bricks and concrete. The first imam was Datu Patinggi Abdul Gapur who was the son in-law of Datu Patinggi Ali.

10.The courtyard at Fort Margherita was used as an execution ground.

Built in 1879, the position of the fort was carefully chosen to defend Kuching from possible attacks.

While it is beautiful from the outside, Fort Margherita carries a dark secret on the inside.

The courtyard reportedly was used to execute prisoners right up to the Japanese occupation during World War II.

11.The Square Tower was a dancing hall at one point.

Lucas Chin in his paper Cultural Heritage of Sarawak pointed out that the tower was built for the detention of prisoners and later used as a fort and dancing hall during the Brooke era.

An impressive building filled with past stories of prisoners and dancers since 1879, it has now become a mere restaurant.

1200px Kuching Sarawak a square towered building and the jail. Ph Wellcome V0037399
The Square Tower building located at the Kuching waterfront. It was built in 1879, the same year as Fort Margherita was built. Orginially it was used as a prison but it was later turned into a fortress and later a dance hall. Photo: Creative Commons.

12.The Astana hosted fancy balls every now and then during the Brooke administration.

While the Square Tower had its role as a dancing hall, the Astana witnessed its own fair share of fun during the Brooke era.

Former Brooke officer John Beville Archer recalled in his book ‘Glimpses of Sarawak between 1912 and 1946’,

“Now and again there was a fancy dress ball at the Astana. Ingenuity in thinking out and making fancy dresses will never cease, but I remember two cases in which realism to do the thing properly overcame prudence. One gentleman, desiring to go as a Dayak, had himself painted all over with iodine. The result of course was a bed in the hospital. The other was the cases which the guest insisted on going as a Negro – he spent days in experimenting with dyes and pigments until he thought he had the right mixture. It certainly was a triumph of make up but it did not please his little wife at all. For days afterwards suspicious smears disfigured her face. The would-be Negro was eventually given a few days leave to become a pale-face again.”

Once known as the Government House, the Astana was built by Charles Brooke as a gift to his wife Margaret.

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The Astana in 1896. Photo by Charles Hose (Creative Commons)

13.The Round Tower was originally planned to built as a fort.

According to Chang Pat Foh in the book Legend and History of Sarawak, the Round Tower was planned as a fort but never fully completed.

It was used as a dispensary for a while and later it was used by the Labour Department.

14.Kuching’s first ever hotel was the Rajah’s Arm.

It was first opened on Dec 1, 1872. The hotel was mentioned in a book by American taxidermist and author, William Temple Hornaday.

The Man Who Became A Savage: A Story of Our Own Times (1896) is a fictional account of how a man became a headhunter in Borneo.

In the book, Hornaday described the hotel as a ‘comfortable lodgment’ but with an ‘indifferent cook’.

Hornaday visited Southeast Asia including Singapore, Malaya and Sarawak in 1878 and stayed at the Rajah’s Arm Hotel during his visit in Kuching.

15.The first church bell of St. Thomas church was cast by a Javanese from broken gongs.

Harriette McDougall in her book Sketches of Our Life At Sarawak explained how the church bell was made.

“The church bell was a difficult matter. Nothing larger than a ship bell could be found in the straits. At last, a Javanese at Sarawak said he could cast a bell large enough if he had the metal; so Frank (Bishop Frank McDougall) bought a hundredweight of broken gong – there is a great deal of silver in gong metal – and with these the bell was cast. Then an inscription had to be put round the rim – “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” in large letters; and the date, Sir James Brooke’s name on one side and F.T. McDougall on the other.”

16.The first Malay house in Kuching to be built using stones and concrete was the Rumah Warisan Datuk Bandar Abang Haji Kassim located at Jalan Datuk Ajibah Abol, Kampung Masjid.

Built in 1863 by Kuching mayor Datuk Bandar Abang Haji Kassim, this was the biggest palatial size Malay house in town at that time.

Since it was the first Malay house built using stones and concretes, the locals called it ‘Rumah Batu’.

Kassim died in Mecca in 1921. His son Datu Patinggi Abang Haji Abdillah was a prominent community leader known for his protest against the cession of Sarawak to the British Empire.

17.The first Roman Catholic school in Kuching, St Joseph’s School only had 20 students when they first started.

When the first group of Mill Hill Fathers came to Sarawak in 1881, they realised there were not many formal school in Kuching.

The following year in April in 1882, the priests started a school catering for children regardless of their racial backgrounds.

They named it St Joseph’s School after the patron of the Mill Hill Fathers.

When they first started, there were only 20 boys studying there.

18.In 1921, Kuching’s Roman Catholic Parish owned at least 30 acres of rubbers as a means of support.

The Roman Catholic Mission in Sarawak began in 1881, Fathers Edmund Dunn, Aloysius Goosens and David Kilty from the Mill Hill Mission arrived in Kuching from London.

When they first arrived on the afternoon of July 10, 1881, they were met by the private secretary of Rajah Charles Brooke who arranged them to live in the hotel.

In the paper ‘A History of the Catholic Church in East Malaysia and Brunei (1880-1976)’, John Rooney described what happened when the priests first arrived.

“The Rajah had set aside ten acres of land for the use of the mission in Kuching but he suggested that its main efforts should be directed to Upper Sarawak and the Rejang. The site granted by the Rajah was a very fine one and had already been cleared by jungle but there were no buildings on it and the Fathers, worried about the costs of a long stay at the hotel, asked for the temporary loan of a government bungalow until such time as proper accommodation could be provided. The Rajah agreed to this request, but he suggested they should first pay a visit to the Rejang and arranged for them to make the trip in his own yacht. On they return to Kuching a fortnight later, they discovered that the Ranee Margaret had already furnished the bungalow for them and they were able to settle very quickly into their new home.”

During the early days of the missionary, funds were limited.

Msgr. Dunn, who was the Apostolic Prefects of Sarawak (1927-1935), encouraged each mission to plant rubber gardens to raise funds.

By 1921, Kuching mission owned 30 acres of rubbers while Kanowit 40 acres, Sibu 27 acres and the Baram mission 30 acres.

19.The first rubber trees planted in Sarawak was at the Anglican bishop’s garden in Kuching.

According to Henry Nicholas Ridley in his article which was published in the Agricultural Bulletin of the Straits Settlements in 1905, the first rubber trees in Sarawak was planted by Bishop George Frederick Hose at his garden.

He brought them over from Singapore’s Botanic Garden in 1881.

20.The first Gurdwara Sahib in Sarawak was built with all Sikhs in Kuching had to contribute at least one month’s salary towards the building funds.

According to history, the Sikh community in Kuching decided to build a Gurdwara Sahib on Oct 1, 1910.

The government agreed to contribute 0.37 acres to serve this purpose.

As for the building fund, all Sikhs in Kuching were made mandatory to contribute at least one month’s salary.

The double storey wooden building was finally open on Oct 1, 1912.

Then this building was demolished to make way for the new golden-domed temple in 1982.

21.Kuching Central Prison was older than Kuala Lumpur’s Pudu Prison.

Kuching Central Prison was built in 1882 while Pudu Prison was built in phases by the British between 1891 and 1895.

Kuching’s prison was demolished in 2010. By December 2012, all buildings within the Pudu Prison complex were completely demolished.

22.The Sarawak Club was first established as a public club and an accommodation house.

Being established in 1876, the club is now one of the oldest private membership clubs in Malaysia.

However, the Sarawak Club used to be both a club and a lodging house.

“The Club, a comfortable stone building, was founded by the Government a few years ago, and contains bedrooms for the use of outstation officers when on a visit to Kuching. A lawn-tennis ground and bowling alley are attached to it, and serve to kill the time,” Harry de Windt wrote in his book On the Equator (1882).

23.There was a ladies club which was located at the corner of Khoo Hun Yeang Street and Barrack Road.

Archer in his book pointed out that the club in those days was very masculine, stating “rather in the style of the famous notice in the Jesselton Club ‘No dogs or women admitted’”.

Hence, the very few women of Kuching formed a club on their own in 1896.

They even had a place to play croquet. Then in 1908, the building was demolished to make way for the Government Printing Office.

Then the ladies was given another club house; between back then Aurora Chambers and Sarawak Museum.

24.Kuching is the second town in Malaysia to have urban water supply after Penang.

When two small lakes were dug out in 1895 to serve as reservoirs, Kuching became the second town in Malaysia to have piped water supply after Penang.

According to Ho Ah Chon in his book Kuching in Pictures 1841-1946, before this all water had to be carried by the tukang ayer (water carrier) in kerosine tins from the nearest little stream before.

The reservoirs stopped operating in the 1930s.

25.The first ice factory in Kuching was opened on Aug 18, 1898.

At that time, one pound of ice cost two cents to ordinary residents, and one and a half cents to ice cream vendors.

26.The first building in Sarawak to use a precast concrete floor system is the Old Government Treasury and Audit Department Building.

Completed in 1927, the building is similar to the Old Kuching Courthouse architectural-wise.

The building was later used by Bank Negara Malaysia.

27.Meanwhile, the first building in Sarawak to use reinforced concrete is the Pavilion Building.

Completed in 1909, the Pavilion Building was used as Medical Headquarters as well as hospital for the Europeans until the mid 1920s.

The Pavillion. Photo: Creative Common.

28.Hong Leong Bank was first started in Kuching back in 1905.

It was first registered under the name of Kwong Lee Mortgage and Remittance Company.

The company granted loan against the security of export commodities such as pepper and rubber.

29.CIMB has its origin roots in Kuching.

Bian Chiang Bank was established in Kuching by Wee Kheng Chiang in 1924. In its early days, the bank focused on business financing and the issuance of bills of exchange. It was renamed Bank of Commerce Berhad in 1979.

It is one of the various bank that formed CIMB (Commerce International Merchant Bankers).

Wee also founded United Chinese Bank in 1935. It is now known United Overseas Bank or UOB.

30.The first branch of Chartered Bank in Borneo island was opened up in Kuching back in 1924.

The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China established its first branch in Malaysia on Beach Street, Penang in 1875. Today, it is the oldest branch of any bank in Malaysia.

Then in 1888, they opened another branch on Jalan Raja, Kuala Lumpur.

When the bank opened its branch in Kuching in 1924, it was their first branch on Borneo island.

In 1985, the Chartered Bank in Malaysia changed its name to Standard Chartered Bank that we know today.

31.The first wireless station was installed in 1916.

The first wireless station in Kuching was established when two large steel pylons were put up not far from St. Joseph’s School.

Then, the first messages were transmitted from Kuching to Penang and Singapore on Oct 25, 1916.

32.The first Kuching Airport was only consisted of two grass-surfaced runways, each 800 yards long.

The airfield was officially opened on Sept 26, 1938. When the Japanese invaded Kuching, the runways were slightly destroyed. Although the Japanese rebuilt them, the airfield was destroyed by Australian bombing.

33.Bako National Park is the oldest national park in Sarawak and the second oldest in Malaysia.

Established in 1957, Bako National Park covers an area of 27.27 square kilometers at the top of the Muara Tebas peninsula at the mouth of the Bako and Kuching Rivers.

However, the area has been a reserve since 1927 when it was formerly known as Muara Tebas Forest Reserve.

Before this, these places in Kuching were…

34.Jalan Taman Budaya was originally named Pearse’s Road.

The road first named after Charles Samuel Pearse who worked in the Treasury. He joined Sarawak Service as a cadet on July 5, 1875 and later appointed cashier on Sept 1 the same year. He was appointed as Treasurer on May 1, 1877. Pearce retired on pension on 1898 and passed away in 1911.

35.Jalan Stephen Yong was originally named Jalan Wee Hood Teck.

From 1968 to 1973, the road was named Jalan Wee Hood Teck. He was the son of United Overseas Bank founder Wee Kheng Chiang.

It was later renamed as Jalan Stephen Yong after Tan Sri Datuk Amar Stephen Yong Kuet Tze. He was a former Malaysian cabinet minister.

36.Kuching High School was first known Min Teck Middle School.

The school was founded in 1916 by Kuching Teochew Association as Min Teck Junior Middle School.

37.Kai Joo Lane was known as sa lee hung or lane of zinc sheets in Teochew or Hokkien.

According to a report by The Borneo Post, the two rows of 32 shops along Kai Joo Lane were built by a Teochew businessman named Teo Kai Joo (1870-1924) in 1923.

When these shops were first built, the buildings were made of red-brown bricks with zinc sheet roofing. Hence, the name sar lee hung.

38.The site of Kuching’s Open Air Market was a reclaimed tidal creek.

While most people often referred it as Open Air Market, the building is in fact named Tower Market.

It derived its name from the remnant tower belonging to the Old Kuching Fire Station.

Even before there was a fire station, there was small creek named Sungai Gartak flowed through the area.

The creek was reclaimed in 1899.

The road Jalan Gartak was named after it.

39.The site of Old General Post Office building was once served as a police station and Rajah’s stable.

Built in 1931, the majestic building which served as a post office was designed by Singapore’s Messr. Swan & Maclaren Architects.

Swan & Maclaren were responsible of designing many Singapore’s historical buildings including Raffles Hotel (1899) and Saint Joseph’s Cathedral (1912).

Before this, the site was a police station and Rajah’s stables.

40.Padang Merdeka was once called ‘The Esplanade’.

According to John Ting in his paper Colonialism and the Brooke Administration Institutional Buildings and Infrastructure in 19th Century Sarawak, the area was established in 1920.

“It was originally reclaimed from swampy land and configured as a municipal park called ‘The Esplanade’. The rectangular park had paths that ran diagonally from the corners and a bandstand. The bandstand’s location made it in appropriate for parades and it was demolished when Sarawak became a colony,” Ting stated.

41.The site of Kuching Old Courthouse once stood a Lutheran church building.

A reverend named Father Rupe from the German Lutheran Communion built a two-storey wooden building on the site in 1847.

He planned to have the ground floor as a place of worship while he lived in the upper floor.

Just right after the building was finished, Rupe returned back to Germany.

James Brooke took over the building then and turned it into a hall for the administration of justice.

The remains of the brick steps of Rupe’s original building is still under the floorboard.

Kuching during and after Japanese Occupation

42.During WWII, the first Allied submarine in Pacific to sink a warship was the Royal Netherlands Navy HNLMS K XVI and the incident took place in Kuching.

On Christmas Eve 1941 about 65km off Kuching, the submarine torpedoed and sank the Japanese destroyer Sagiri.

The destroyer’s aft magazine caught was fire and exploded sinking the ship with 121 of the 241 personnel aboard killed.

43.Batu Lintang Camp was unusual because it housed both Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and civilian internees.

Operated from March 1942 until the liberation of the camp in September 1945, the site was originally British Indian Army barracks.

44.St Thomas School was used as a labour camp.

The Japanese reportedly even tried to built a swimming pool there but it was never completed.

45.There were four military brothels in Kuching during the Japanese occupation.

According to Ooi Keat Gin in the book the Japanese Occupation of Borneo 1941-1945, these four locations were Borneo Company Limited manager’s bungalow, Chung Wah School Pig Lane (now Park Lane), St Mary’s School Hostel and Chan’s family mansion at Tabuan Road.

The inmates of these brothels were Korean, Japanese as well as Javanese.

46.Yokohama Specie Bank opened a branch in Kuching during the occupation in early 1942 in the former building of Chartered Bank.

The Yokohama Specie bank was a Japanese bank founded in Yokohama, Japan in the year 1880.

After the end of WWII in 1946, its assets were transferred to The Bank of Tokyo. Naturally, the branch in Kuching closed down after the war had ended.

47.The Sarawak Museum thankfully suffered little damage during the war because the Japanese official in charge.

1025px Kuching Sarawak the museum building. Photograph. Wellcome V0037397
The Sarawak Museum in 1896. Photo: Creative Commons.

In the book ‘Glimpses of Sarawak between 1912 and 1946’, John Beville Archer recounted what took place after WWII.

“At first, I was given the Sarawak Museum office and become involved in listening to all sorts of requests and appeals. One of duties was trying to collect what I could of the Rajah’s property. Strange enough, the Japanese had done no damage to the Astana and its contents were almost intact but scattered. For instance, I managed to find the Rajah’s insignia, the State Sword and other relics. The Museum lost very little; this was because the Japanese official in charge of it for the last two years was, it is said, an Oxford University graduate.”

48.Darul Kurnia was the site where anti-cession movement protesters demonstrated against ‘Circular No.9’.

Anti-cession protesters on the ground of Darul Kurnia. Photo by Ho Ah Chon.

After the war ended, many joined Datu Patinggi Abang Haji Abdillah and Datu Patinggi Haji Kassim to fight against cession of Sarawak to Britain.

After realising that most of the members of the movement were civil servants, the colonial office issued ‘Circular No.9’ on Dec 31, 1946.

The circular warned civil servants that it was illegal to join in political movements.

The peak of the anti-cession movement took place on Apr 2, 1947 when 338 civil servants submitted their resignation letters.

On the same day, they all stood on the ground of Darul Kurnia to show their protest.

Located at Jalan Haji Taha, Darul Kurnia is a colonial style mansion built in the 1930s by Datu Patinggi Abang Haji Abdillah.

49.There are at least five war and hero memorials in Kuching.

These memorials include the Clock Tower at Jalan Padungan, the Sarawak Volunteer Mechanics and Drivers at Tabuan Laru, Heroes Monument at Sarawak Museum ground, World War II Herous Grave at Jalan Taman Budaya and Batu Lintang Camp Memorial at the Batu Lintang Teacher’s Education Institute.

50.Fort Margherita has flown four different flags under four different administrations.

The first flag was of course Brookes’ Sarawak flag, then the Rising Sun during WWII.

When the state became a crown colony, it was the Union Jack and now our very own Sarawak flag.

Looking back at Labuan War Crimes Trials during World War II

After the Second World War (WWII) ended, Labuan became one of the locations where war crime trials took place.

From December 1945 and January 1946, 16 war crime trials took place at Labuan.

Some of the cases trialed at Labuan were the ill-treatment of prisoners of War (POW) at Batu Lintang Camp, the Sandakan Death Marches and the final executions of POWs at Ranau.

Labuan War Crimes Trials 1
Two military policemen guard four Japanese officers outside the Labuan court. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial. Copyright expired-public domain.

Why hold the war crimes trials in Labuan?

According to Georgina Fitzpatrick in the book Australia’s War Crimes Trials 1945-51, Labuan was the location of Australia’s 9th Division headquarters.

“There was a large garrison of Australian soldiers there to guard a war criminal’s compound and to provide other ancillary staff needed for war crime trials. Labuan was also the location of an Australian General Hospital (AGH) where those liberated Allied prisoners of war who were not well enough to be evacuated to Morotai had been sent to recuperate from their ill-treatment in Kuching camp. This placed them in proximity to the Japanese war criminal compound, where they could assist in identifying war criminal suspect,” Fitzpatrick stated.

Bearing witness at Labuan War Crimes Trials

It was rare to have former POWs of the Japanese to be present in person at these trials as a witness.

However, it did happen in the Labuan War Crimes Trials.

One of the six survivors of Sandakan Death Marches Warrant Officer William Sticpewich appeared at three different trials at Labuan.

Athol Moffitt was the jurist who was involved with the Labuan War Crimes Trials.

After the war, Moffitt reveal in his diary that Sticpewich had been flown back to Labuan at the request of the Japanese defence team.

The Japanese thought that he might be a friendly witness.

Unfortunately for them, this particular move became the defense team’s ‘greatest mistake’.

According to Moffitt, Sticpewich ‘got on the right side of the Japs and can speak quite a lot of Japanese – being very handy as a carpenter and good at fixing machines he made himself invaluable to the Japs during his imprisonment.

“He had the run of the camp and got a little extra food from the Jap leavings. He also poked his nose into things and can now tell us all sorts of things as to what food they had and what medicines they had etc.”

During his return to Borneo, Sticpewich was not only providing evidence against the Japanese. He also retook the Sandakan Death Marches route to help locate the graves of Allied forces.

Interpreters of Labuan War Crime Trials

Since the Australian prosecuting team spoke in English and the Japanese military obviously spoke in Japanese, the court needed interpreters to carry on with the trials.

One of the interpreters at Labuan reportedly went an extra mile to do his job.

Lieutenant Joseph da Costa was considered one of the most fluent of the Allied Translator and Interpreter Service (ATIS) interpreters at Labuan.

Despite that, da Costa was still concerned that the suspects did not understand what was going on.

Before the war broke out, he was studying in Japan and later onboard one of the last ships to leave to Australia in 1941.

While his spoken Japanese was fluent enough, da Costa was not familiar with military or medical terms in Japanese.

He then started a practice of visiting the specific prisoner in the evening to go over the day’s proceedings to make sure the suspect knew what had been said during the day.

Sergeant Donald Mann was another interpreter provided by ATIS at the Labuan trials.

Born to English parents, Mann was a former resident of Kobe.

Like da Costa, he too had been evacuated from Japan in 1941.

Since these two interpreters provided by ATIS were actually living and studying in Japan, their Japanese language proficiency was considered at higher standard compared to at other trials.

The Japanese defence counsel in Ambon war crime trials Somiya Shinji for instance argued that the accused were ‘unable to defend themselves sufficiently’ because they could not express ‘in an exact and accurate manner what they wanted to state’.

Defending the war criminals at Labuan War Crimes Trials

Batu Lintang Camp

Speaking of the defence counsel, their competence was an issue which was raised many times during the trials.

The defending officer in one of the Labuan trials actually said this during his closing statement:

“The only thing for which I should like to make an apology and to beg your understanding is the problem of language. My English knowledge is extremely limited. Besides that, I am not will informed in jurisprudence at large and am quite ignorant about the Australian laws and regulations which this case is charged with. I am afraid this weakness will let me feel not only inconvenient but also to feel a kind of irritation of not being able to express my mind fully, like to scratch an itchy spot from outsides shoes.”

One of the defending officers in Labuan was Colonel Yamada Setsuo.

Even though he had been the Chief Legal Officer at Kuching during the Japanese occupation, there are some doubts that Yamada actually had legal qualifications.

Reporting on Labuan War Crimes Trials

More than 75 years passed since the war ended and the current generation roughly know about the atrocities committed by the Japanese during WWII.

However when the war literally just ended, the public, particularly the families of war crimes victims, had no idea the heinousness that their loved ones went through.

Now came in the question of how much the public should know.

According to Fitzpatrick when the Labuan trials started, the press entered into ‘a gentleman’s agreement with the military authorities to reveal only general details of what had happened to and to refrain from publishing the names of victims’.

During that time, the readers were give some amount of detail about conditions of starvation and brutality in the camps as well as about the death marches and massacres.

By doing this, the Australian military believed that they were trying to protect the families.

On the contrary, they were accused of cover-up.

Still, some of the news reports published by the Argus and the Sydney Morning Herald gave more than enough details on the cases that they must have frightened any relatives of men missing in action.

Eric Thornton from the Argus for example reported, “Shots entered the house where sick POWs were lying, and they began to move out. Those too sick to walk started to crawl toward the grass, and all were slaughtered on the spot. When asked why he did not stop the slaughter, Sugino said he was so excited he did not think of it.”

Japanese Sergeant Major Tsurio Sugino was from the Borneo Prisoner of War and Internee Guard Unit.

He was charged with ‘having caused to be killed 46 Australian, British and Indian POWs (survivors from Labuan POW Camp) at Miri on Oct 6, 1945. Sugino was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Any convicted Japanese war criminals who received a death sentence and whose sentence was confirmed were executed where they had been tried.

Those who were sentenced to terms of imprisonment were initially held where that had been tried before they were moved to other places such as Rabaul.

The last trials

The last Australian-run trial held on Labuan was a mass trial of 45 guards.

These guards were suspected of ill-treating prisoners at the Batu Lintang Camp.

The trial was completed on Jan 31, 1946. After that, any other trials on Labuan were conducted by the 32nd Indian Brigade.

Overall, the Australians conducted 16 trials in Labuan between Dec 3, 1945 and Jan 31, 1946, in which 145 accused were involved, 17 were acquitted and 128 were found guilty.

In the end of the Australian trials, 39 Japanese had received death sentences, 36 by shooting and three by hanging.

So what the survivors thought of these results?

Victims’ Responses to the Trials’ Results Batu Lintang Camp WW2 12
The Survivors of Batu Lintang Camp.

Michelle Cunningham in her book Defying the Odds: Surviving Sandakan and Kuching published some accounts on the victims’ point of view on the trials’ verdicts.

She wrote, “Some months after the war a British officer, Captain H.D.A. Yates, who had remained in the army in Borneo wrote to his former prison mates to update them on the war crimes trials and the questioning of the guards. He commented on the fate of several of the guards, suggesting that some sentences might be a bit harsh and lamenting that those for the most hated guards might not be harsh enough. He was pleased that Tadao Yoshimura, the assistant quartermaster at Batu Lintang, had escaped prosecution, for he had been one of the ‘good’ boys.”

The parting gift

While there were many horrific accounts that were revealed during the Labuan War Crimes Trial, there was one unexpected story that was disclosed many years after.

According to an article by the Journal of the New South Wales Bar Association, Russell Le Gay Brereton was the first investigate and prosecute Japanese guards during the Labuan trial.

An event that would stay with him forever was witnessing the formal surrender of General Masao Baba.

He formally turned over his sword to Australian Major General George Wootten at Labuan on Sept 10, 1945.

As part of his job as an investigator, Brereton flew to Kuching and stayed at The Astana. He found the Astana to be ‘the last word in luxury. Marble bathrooms and all’.

He also flew to Sandakan which for him the worst POW camp.

Brereton was then appointed as prosecutor in the first of the Labuan War Crimes Trials particularly the trial of Sgt Major Sugino.

During the trial, he impressed the Japanese defenders and officers with his concern for justice. The defending officer Yamada reportedly invited Brereton ‘to be his guest in Japan’ after things have settle down.

Brereton left Labuan on New Year’s Day in 1946 with a parting gift from General Baba.

The general presented him a Japanese calligraphy written in thick brush strokes on rice paper with translation and dedication on the reverse side read, “True heart is the core of everything.”

Baba was brought to Rabaul for trial and was found guilty with command responsibility for the Sandakan Death Marches.

He was executed by hanging on Aug 7, 1947.

Masao Baba

4 books to read to know more about life during Crown Colony of Sarawak (1946-1963)

After World War II had ended in 1945, Sarawak was under the British Military Administration for seven months.

Then in 1946, the Crown Colony of Sarawak was established as part of the British Crown Colony.

The cession officially became effective on July 1, 1946. On the same day, the last White Rajah of Sarawak Vyner Brooke gave a speech on how he took this decision as ‘it was in the best interests of the people of Sarawak and that in the turmoil of the modern world they would benefit greatly from the experience, strength and wisdom of the British rule’.

If you want to know about life during Crown Colony of Sarawak especially from colonial officers’ point of views, here are KajoMag’s book suggestions:

1.Fair Land Sarawak: Some recollections of an Expatriate Officer by Alastair Morrison

Alastair Morrison joined the British Colonial Service in 1947 and was sent to Sarawak in the same year.

He served as a district officer for a number of years before being transferred to the Secretariat in Kuching in 1954.

In 1959, he was transferred to the Government Information Office. During his time as a District Officer, he also wrote extensively for the Sarawak Gazette.

After his wife Hedda died in 1991, Morrison busied himself writing. His first memoir is about his service in Sarawak, Fair Land Sarawak: Some recollections of an Expatriate Officer (1993).

In his word to explain about the memoir, Morrison stated wrote, “This is a book of personal recollections about nineteen happy years which my wife and I had the good fortune to spend in Sarawak. It does not attempt to provide a complete account of that period of Sarawak history but will, I hope, convey something of the way of life that we enjoyed and of some of the people, both Asian and European, whom we came to know.

“The narrative may appear lighthearted in places, but this is not due to any lack of serious side to life in Sarawak. Rather it seeks to reflect the good nature and humour which are some of the most abiding impression those who know Sarawak have always taken away with them.”

His other books include The Road To Peking (1993) and A Bird Fancier: A Journey to Peking (2001).

2.Sarawak Anecdotes: A Personal Memoir of Service 1947-1965 by Ian Urquhart

From the beginning of the book, this former British colonial service reminded readers that his book is ‘not the place to write a thesis on the evils and good points of British colonialism in the past and in my lifetime’.

He added, “I stress that what I have written NEITHER meant to convey a typical picture of this history of my life NOR of the life anyone else in Sarawak NOR to provide a balanced image of the development of that friendly country. If you want a book to give a proper picture of colonial Sarawak – this is not the book for you. I hope that ‘Anecdotes’ will leave my readers with an impression of what a delightful place Sarawak was to live and work in.”

Ian Urquhart arrived in Sarawak in 1947 and then continued spending 18 years here as a colonial officer.

Some of his views which he had written in his memoir are quite controversial, especially his criticism of both federal and state governments.

Nonetheless, it is always interesting to read different points of view.

3.A Servant of Sarawak: Reminiscences of a Crown Counsel in 1950s Borneo by Peter Mooney

In 1953, Peter Mooney was offered the appointment of Crown Counsel in Sarawak.

Here, he first became the Public Prosecutor. One of his memorable cases saw him going against Lee Kuan Yew who was then a barrister in Singapore.

The case involved violations of several section of the Forestry Ordinance and also the Customs Ordinance.

The accused, according to Mooney, was the managing director of the exporters named Mr Lau who also happened to be a timber tycoon in Sibu.

‘Mr Lau’ hired Lee to defend him but in the end, the court found him guilty of all charges.

This particular case was written in a chapter of Mooney’s memoir.

In the preface of his memoir, Mooney wrote this about Sarawak, “This was the country in which I arrived. It was happy and peaceful. I thought that I had come to civilize the people. It was they who civilized me. They were friendly, warm and most hospitable, ever willing to share what little they had. Moral standards were high. It was hardly necessary to close windows or doors at night. Theft was almost unknown.”

But obviously, customs fraud had already existed back then.

Anyway, Mooney was eventually appointed the Attorney General of Sarawak as well as serving on the Supreme Council and Council Negri.

Then in 1960, he left Sarawak for Malaya to join a law firm in Kuala Lumpur.

4.Lawyer in the Wilderness by Kenelm Hubert Digby

Kenelm Hubert Digby
Kenelm Hubert Digby

Kenelm Hubert Digby came to Sarawak to work for the last of the White Rajah of Sarawak in 1934.

He returned to England at the end of his contract in 1939.

However, Digby returned to Sarawak in 1940 where he was appointed as Legal Adviser to Brooke.

During the Japanese occupation of Sarawak, he was among the Europeans who were interned at the Batu Lintang Camp.

After the war has ended, he returned to Sarawak as Legal Adviser. Digby then rose to become Attorney-General and later a circuit judge.

In 1980, he published a memoir based on his life in Sarawak Lawyer in the Wilderness.

Although it was published in 1980, Digby pointed the content of the book was written in 1952 when ‘events were comparatively fresh in memory’.

It is based on his experience in Sarawak from the middle of 1934 to the end of 1951.

According to Digby, the period covered saw the decline and end of ‘Brooke rule’, the trauma of the Japanese occupation and the establishment of the authority of the Colonial Office.

These words are the perfect summary of what the state had gone through as the Crown Colony of Sarawak.